Getting started - cycling to school

Several children already enjoy cycling around Herne Hill and Dulwich and would love more of their friends to join them. We hope for real space for cycling in the future, but with some careful planning and basic skills, many more of us could enjoy the fun, freedom and practicality of using a bike for local trips, like 13 year old Kika does.

Learning to ride a bike for complete beginners.

To avoid endless weekends of frustration and back pain have a look at Sustrans' suggestions for ditching the stabilisers. The key is to practise scooting and balancing before attempting to pedal at the same time. Once happy on two wheels there are lots of fun games to develop bike handling skills; cycling around small obstacles or braking on a line can teach useful techniques, and 'high fiving' or waving gets children ready for signalling.

Free training for cycling on the roads.

Most junior schools offer Bikeability, gradually introducing children to cycling on the roads to give them the skills to cycle to secondary school by Year 7.  There are extra Bikeability sessions at Dulwich Park and Herne Hill Velodrome and Clapham Common if your child missed out at school.

Protective Cycling: cycling with children as they learn the roads.

Once children have achieved their 'Bikeability' it's the perfect time for them to practise simple journeys on quiet roads. When you first bike together on local streets it's a good idea to cycle behind and slightly to the right so you can see your child and the road, and prevent anyone overtaking too close. By following rather than leading, you encourage the child to assess the risks and gain valuable experience for when they're ready to tackle the journey on their own. Here's a short film of one dad's school run. Ali and his seven year old take a clearly visible position and cycle in a smooth line away from the gutter and from parked cars.

Choosing a bike

Picture from @classicretro
Good quality bikes are useful transport, give hours of outdoor fun and have great resale value. Ask for advice in any local bike shop, or do some research online first via Cycle Sprog

If you need to carry toddlers or a tuba you might want something more unusual. You can hire cargo bikes, trikes and tandems at London Recumbents in Dulwich Park (like the triple Angus used for his school run).  For those with a specific disabilityWheels for Wellbeing has a selection of side-by-sides and wheelchair bikes like Isabelle's to try.

But they have so much stuff!

Most children can easily carry a small backpack while cycling, so it's no problem carrying a pencil case and PE kit. But carting heavy books, sports bags and musical instruments is often used as a reason to take the car instead.
  • When there's a lot to carry, a rack and panniers transform the journey to school making it easy on the shoulders and allowing real independence. 
  • Panniers like these have the added benefit of being completely waterproof (no more soggy homework), 
  • They help keep your child visible and we hope they remind drivers to give plenty of room when overtaking too.
  • These particular panniers cope with heavy books and sports kit and are often seen with a hockey stick and a trombone poking out the top.

Research your route

The whole road network is open to you on a bike, but you can also seek out car-free parks and paths. When planning your journey to school, you might want to try a few different routes during the holidays. Sometimes it makes sense to go the long way round to avoid a nasty junction, a difficult right turn or a busy bus route, or just to choose a calmer stress free route like Marylene's family does. If it means less stopping and starting, a quiet route could be quicker and easier as well as providing the perfect setting for quality time on the school run.

Simple bike maintenance

Charter Y10s learn bike maintenance 
Getting into the habit of performing some simple bike checks - like keeping tyres pumped up and checking brakes regularly - will make your child's cycling easier and safer.  Local bike shops can fix or service your bike and some will even come to you at home.